By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Here is some free, unsolicited advice for Matt LaFleur: Don’t do what you just did. Sure, that message may be slightly tardy, but it also should’ve have been necessary at all. It’s just common sense.READ MORE: Onions Linked To Salmonella Outbreak In 37 States, Including Massachusetts, CDC Says
Don’t do that!
“That”would of course be kicking a field goal from the 8-yard line while trailing by eight points with 2:09 left in a game that determines which NFC team will make the Super Bowl, and in a game where Tom FREAKING Brady is standing on the opposite sideline.
Don’t do that. Don’t ever do that.
Sure, sure, sure, Brady finally looked his age in that second half, perhaps succumbing to the Wisconsin winter and crumbling with three interceptions and a number of misfires in the second half. The Bucs’ 28-10 lead kept shrinking and shrinking and shrinking, thanks in large part to Tom Brady’s sudden addiction to throwing interceptions. Was there a reason to believe the defense could stop Brady one more time? Sure. The defense could stop him from scoring.
But stop him from picking up a first down or two to ice away a championship game?
You serious, Clark?
That was never going to happen, and kicking that field goal — the second field goal from the doorstep of the goal line — sealed the Packers fate as losers.
You play like losers, you end up as losers. And the Packers are losers.
“Yeah, any time it doesn’t work out, you always regret it, right?” LaFleur said after the 31-26 loss for his team. “But it was just the circumstances of having three shots [at the end zone] and coming away with no yards. And knowing that you not only need the touchdown but you need the two points. So the way I was looking at it was we essentially had four timeouts, with the two-minute warning. And we knew we needed to get a stop. I thought we were gonna have a stop there at the end, but we got called for the PI, and it didn’t work out.
“So I think any time something doesn’t work out, do you regret it? Sure,” LaFleur continued. “But, we’re always going to be process-driven here, and the way our defense was battling, the way our defense was playing, it felt like it was the right decision to do. And it just didn’t work out.”
That one’s going to sing for a while. Instead of letting the MVP take one more crack at scoring a touchdown, instead of giving the offense another chance to draw a holding or PI penalty for a brand new set of downs, LaFleur sent out his kicker for a chip shot field goal that would still require his team to score a touchdown to win the game. And Rodgers never got back on the field.
It’s tough being a head coach, obviously, and there are hundreds of decisions made every game that either work out as expected, fail as expected, work out unexpectedly, or unfairly fail.
Yet the very fabric of some decisions is made up entirely of loser molecules. This was one of those decisions.
–That being said, the Bucs almost Buc’d it right back, when kick returner Jaydon Mickens had absolutely no idea that he could have bled a few more seconds and thus eliminated the two-minute warning.
Mickens overall had a good game, breaking a 43-yard return late in the third quarter and a 29-yard return on the game’s opening kick. But he also flexed while staring down the Packers’ sideline after a 7-yard punt return, and he gave the Packers a free timeout. Whether the coaches failed to let him know how the clock worked or whether he did that on his own, the bottom line is the Bucs were lucky to not have that mistake bite them in the buns.
(Update: I saw this breakdown from Mark Schofield, who noted that the hands team was on the field for Tampa and thus, Mickens couldn’t have put forth much of a return. That’s fair. He still could have run sideways for two seconds.
–Of course, surviving three interceptions is a bit of a grander accomplishment for Tampa Bay. The offshoot of those three turnovers by Brady was that a lot of people seemed to have trouble summing up his performance. I thought it was quite simple.
In the first half, he was great. Nearly perfect. A killer. We saw why he is the greatest.
In the second half, he was bad. Very bad. The first pick was a wholly unnecessary decision. The second was a bad misfire on a wide-open, enormous target. (Don’t conflate that pick with the Wes Welker drop, as I saw people do on Twitter. The throw to Welker was fine and is caught by 99 percent of NFL receivers 99 percent of the time. This one was high and behind the 45-foot tall Mike Evans. That it came after a brutal Evans drop might have caused some confusion. Glad to have cleared this up.) The third was essentially a punt on third down, but one that gave Evans a chance to either fight for a jump ball or potentially draw a flag for PI; Evans did neither.
We’re unaccustomed to seeing Brady have vastly different halves. I wonder if his 43-year-old bones got a bit tight as the temperature dropped and his exposure to the elements intensified. I can’t imagine that the coolest QB under pressure in the history of the sport suddenly felt tense in a stadium with 9,000 fans and a fat, cushy lead in a conference title game.
Whatever it was, the game was simple to analyze. His great first half gave them a lead. His grisly second half was covered up by a defense that limited the MVP to just one scoring drive off those three turnovers. That is how football games are won.
–One thing with Brady is that he had to attend the Super Bowl last year as a spectator. It was an honor, to be sure, as he and the rest of the “NFL 100” honorees got to don burgundy blazers and stand on the field as the best to ever do it. But Brady being Brady, he wasn’t happy about it, so he vowed that he wouldn’t be wearing a blazer for the next Super Bowl.
Developing story: Tom Brady wants to play in the Super Bowl next year. Does not want to sport a blazer for The Big Game™️.
Big if true. pic.twitter.com/bUhRZGQMmh
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) February 4, 2020
He backed that one up.
–The Chiefs should beat the Bucs. The Chiefs should beat everybody. They were at their best against the Bills, signaling that they do still have that championship gear.
If there is one area where the Bucs might be able to flip the script is by exploiting an offensive line that lost starting left tackle Eric Fisher on Sunday. When Fisher went out, Mike Remmers moved from right tackled to left tackle, Andrew Wylie shifted to right tackle from the guard spot, and Stefen Wisniewski — a 10-year vet — filled in at the guard spot. So it’s not as if some unknown rookie will be thrown into the fire.
But the loss certainly hurts the Chiefs, who now have to deal with Shaq Barrett (3 sacks vs. Green Bay) and Jason Pierre-Paul (2 sacks vs. Green Bay) on the edge and Vita Vea and Ndamukong Suh on the interior. Now, that’s probably not enough to completely submarine the Chiefs’ offensive plans, not with the way Tyreek Hill can turn a 5-yard reception into a 60-yard game-changing play. BUT … it’s something.
–Rob Gronkowski caught one pass on one target. Stat sheet wise, he was barely existent. But it’s quite the luxury for the Bucs to be able to basically keep him in mothballs all game, then slip a screen pass to him for 29 yards to set up what proved to be the putaway score of the ballgame.
Gronk’s big 29-yard gain 😤
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 24, 2021
The Bucs gained just two yards after that before Ryan Succop drilled a 46-yard field goal to stretch the lead from five to eight points. He may not be Mr. 10-catch, 157-yards, 2-TDs anymore, but Gronkowski can still come up big in the biggest spots.
–I have a question: Number 31, Mister Adrian Amos, my good sir, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
— NFL (@NFL) January 24, 2021
Bucs AGAIN with a heavy PA off a Duo run look. This time resulting in a wide-open TD to Brate. pic.twitter.com/7zX658CxL5
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) January 24, 2021
There is biting on a play-action fake, and then there is gently caressing the tight end’s midsection as he trots by you for a wide-open, uncovered touchdown.
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–While Brady’s game was obviously up and down, there are two throws worth spotlighting. The first came at the end of an absolutely BONKERS sequence of events to end the first half. We’ll get to that in a moment. But on the touchdown to Scotty Miller, I think the separation/bad coverage/absolute mayhem in the final minute led to a beautiful throw getting overlooked.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME, SCOOTER?! 😱
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) January 24, 2021
That man is 43! I know it gets hammered into people’s heads to the point where it becomes impossible to register, but 43-year-olds don’t throw footballs like that.
Earlier in the half, Brady completed a 52-yard deep ball to Chris Godwin. The receiver did all the work, of course, but Brady got the ball there. Only four people have ever tried to play quarterback at age 43; three of them threw for fewer than those 52 yards in their entire season. This is all crazy, folks.
The second throw looked like it would be the one that won the game. It ended up not being quite so consequential, but nevertheless! It was a third-and-8 for the Bucs at their own 47-yard line, early in the fourth quarter. Just after Mike Evans did this …
… for what was the fourth or fifth Tampa Bay drop, in a game where the Packers had just closed Tampa’s lead to five points, things were tense. Things were tight.
Then Brady uncorked this missile to Tyler Johnson:
Mama mia. That puppy was a-hummin’.
Of course, Brady threw high and wide to Evans three plays later, leading to the interception, THUS making this play less consequential. But it was still a physical marvel for the old man to uncork a missile like that.
(That was Brady’s seventh completion on third down, making him 7-for-9 for 157 yards and a touchdown at that point. It soured after that, but, well, it’s that type of thing that helps build big leads.)
–OK, the end of first half sequence. Goodness gracious, me oh my. That was wild.
First, coming out of the two-minute warning, the Bucs stopped Jamaal Williams for a gain of four yards on second-and-10 from the Green Bay 13-yard line. Bruce Arians didn’t want to tempt fate and call timeout before the third down, and Aaron Rodgers showed exactly why that was a wise decision, when he hit Allen Lazard for 23 yards on the third-and-6.
Green Bay was in business at its own 40-yard line with 38 seconds left and two timeouts, but Rodgers was sacked by Pierre-Paul on the next play.
It was then that Arians decided to call timeout, which was bizarre. If the Packers ran two more plays and drained 10-12 seconds off the clock, then they’d be punting with about 24 seconds left from, say, their own 40-yard line. That punt would suck another, say, eight seconds off the clock, thus giving Tampa the football somewhere around their own 25-yard line with about 15 seconds left in the half and no timeouts. That’s kind of a useless aspiration, especially when the alternative option is to give Rodgers another opportunity to score himself.
That was crazy. Even crazier was Sean Murphy-Bunting ripping Lazard’s jersey off (out of the view of any officials) before picking off Rodgers at midfield. Arians definitely got lucky with that one, as his timeout probably should have resulted in the Packers having a first-and-10 at the 49-yard line with enough time to at least get into field-goal range. Instead it was Bucs ball.
And Arians must have been feeling it, because he decided about 40 minutes too late that he wanted to go for it on the resulting fourth-and-4. Brady had already donned his superhero cape and was ready to go warm up in the locker room, when he had to quickly derobe and get back onto the field.
Brady and Leonard Fournette connected for six yards to convert that fourth down, but the Bucs were left with just one chance at the end zone before hafltime. The Packers simply had to defend the goal line and head to the half with a manageable four-point deficit. Instead they played man and let Miller — who’s awfully fast — get open for six.
It was one of the wildest sequences of events we’ve all ever seen. The odds of all of those things happening as they did had to have been 10 million-to-1. But that is, as they say, why we watch the games.
–Could Rodgers have run for the touchdown before his third-down incompletion, prior to the lame-as-heck field goal? I’m not entirely sure.
I know he’s probably faster than Jason Pierre-Paul, but the defender’s angle likely would have led to Rodgers being brought down short of the goal line. Now, in retrospect, knowing that LaFleur was fixing to kick a field goal, a fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line would obviously have been a more desirable outcome for Rodgers. But I’m not convinced he would have run that one in for the score.
–One more note on the Green Bay red zone offense: I know this was not completed, but this route by Davante Adams was incredible:
That guy is good. Turns out that route is better suited to be run from the 7-yard line, and not the 6-yard line. Also turns out Rodgers could have looked for Lazard instead:
Ah well. It’s just the Super Bowl.
–The extremely late penalty flag is sure to be the source of controversy for some people. Those folks will argue that the game “was called one way” all day and that an obvious infraction in that moment … shouldn’t have been called?
I get it. The crew kept the flags in the pockets all night. And really, anything short of a play where a defender grabs a hold with two hands of the receiver’s undershirt and stretches it out like pizza dough while traversing across the midfield logo, there’s probably not going to be a flag.
But when you do this …
… you get penalized. There’s no adjustable standard that makes a play like that result in no penalty flag.
The back judge clearly gave it a second thought before letting the flag fly, given the enormity of the moment, but — just like a false start or a too many men penalty — there are some infractions that must be called. This was one of them.MORE NEWS: Coronavirus In Massachusetts: Today's Developments